By Bob Blake

We hold our fire fighters in awe. They risk their lives for us every day. They expose themselves to all types of perils and, with sirens blaring, ride those big red fire trucks to danger! The battle with demon fire dates to antiquity.

The recent fire is smoke as seen from I-40 near Black Mountain. Source  eslangston onTwitter.

Roman emperor Augustus, in 24 B.C., instituted a corps of fire-fighting “vigiles” (watchmen) who sounded an alarm at signs of fire. Their only equipment was a bucket of water passed hand to hand. The second century Greek inventor Ctesibius used compressed air to forcefully stream water on a fire. Colonial laws in America required each homeowner to have a bucket of water on the front stoop so the initial firemen would have a head start.

In the 1700s, cities such as Philadelphia and New York had hand pumped rudimentary equipment pulled by volunteers. It would be almost a century later before horses powered the “apparatus,” a term firemen continue to call their equipment. In 1912, before Los Angeles (California) had motorized equipment, the department maintained 163 horses on a regular basis. These strong equines consumed mountainous bales of barley and oats each day…and also left behind a lot to shovel!

Many large cities, such as Rome, Chicago, and London were devastated by fire. Our minds readily recall the images of heavily laden and grim-faced fire fighters trudging the stairs of the World Trade Center. Our recent North Carolina mountain fire fighters exhibited the same professional dedication and determination.

Figures from the National Fire Protection Association show fire deaths in the United States have decreased 21% since 2003. The total number of fires has also declined in that same period. Fire fighters are busy. According to website, U.S. firefighters answered over 33 million calls in 2014. Requests for medical assistance exceeded 2.5 million calls. Sadly, “false alarms” were almost an equal number.

We are proud of our local red fire engines as they lead our parades. We depend on those gleaming trucks to promptly answer the call to 911. These sparkling engines, however, are not cheap!

The old truck exiting the fire department is a 1911 Packard. Note, it is a right hand drive.

Before we can estimate the cost of a fire truck, we must decide what kind of vehicle we are talking about. The three most common fire trucks are a pumper engines, ladder trucks, and wildfire vehicles built for rough terrain. Rural departments must carry their water in tankers. There are also specialty trucks for heavy rescue or hazardous materials. In the mid ‘90s, a decent fire truck from a reputable manufacturer cost around $200,000. Now it is double or triple that amount. Adding new hoses, nozzles, communication equipment, breathing masks and protective gear skyrocket the cost.

Training is also a huge and expensive part of a fire department. Fire fighting is much more than squirting water on a blaze.

Next time you see a fireman, look him in the eye and thank him for his work.